Bend OSP trooper placed on leave over video saying he’ll refuse to follow state’s vaccine mandate
(Update: Statement with more details from Kowing's lawyer)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – An Oregon State Police trooper in Bend has been placed on paid administrative leave for posting a video on Instagram in which he says he will refuse to comply with Gov. Kate Brown’s vaccine mandate and decries “unlawful orders” that threaten Oregonians’ livelihoods, his attorney said Thursday night.
“I have personal and religious reasons as to why I will not take the vaccine, but also the freedom not to,” said the trooper, who Portland attorney Dan Thenell confirmed to NewsChannel 21 is Zachary Kowing, 29, an eight-year OSP trooper assigned to the Bend office.
Kowing posted the 2-minute, 35-second video about a week ago on his Instagram account, thinblueline_patriot, where he refers to himself as “pro-choice-life” and “pro freedom,” with a ‘SAVE OREGON!’ logo over the U.S. flag.
The video apparently was shot in his patrol car and while in uniform, though Thenell noted he does not give his name in the video (or on his account) or identify the agency that employs him. Instead, he refers to himself simply as "a Christian, a husband, a father and a police officer."
Kowing says he’s aware he is “likely to be fired over this video, but I’m nonetheless exercising my First Amendment rights to speak freely.”
He said he had “fallen in line” for over a year “with these useless, ineffective mask mandates, and I will no more." He said Oregonians should not have to follow “unlawful orders that threaten their livelihoods, should they not fall in line.”
“I encourage you to look deep down and decide if you are going to fall in line as sheep, or stand up for the rights we still have, while we still have them,” Kowing said.
Thenell, general counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said of Kowing, “He knew what he was doing, and feels very strongly about this. He is aware of the possible ramifications.”
“I can’t predict what kind of enforcement action State Police will take,” he said, noting that the agency must provide due process during an investigation that in his experience can take “several months” – well past the governor’s Oct. 18 deadline for state agency workers to get the vaccine or face possible dismissal.
“I think there are a significant number of troopers who feel similarly (to Kowing)” about the vaccine mandate, Thenell added.
OSP Captain Stephanie Bigman, the agency's public information officer, said they do not comment on personnel investigations.
Thenell provided these additional statements to sister station KGW Friday morning:
Trooper Kowing expected, at minimum, that he would be reprimanded for making the video.
Trooper Kowing has been assigned to Patrol for the entirety of his eight years with OSP. He is also a defensive tactics instructor.
Trooper Kowing swore an oath to protect peoples’ rights and freedom. He felt it was important for him to stand up and speak for people who may be too afraid or unable to voice their opinions. In other words, he felt this issue was important enough to risk his job.
The agency did not say anything and followed protocol when placing him on leave.
His actions are not an objection to the vaccine, but to the Governor’s Executive Order that attempts to force State Executive Branch Employees to be vaccinated for face termination.
The views expressed in the video are those only of Trooper Kowing, however, many other troopers share his view.
As far as the science that backs the effectiveness of the masks, he has seen studies from legitimate sources that cite both sides. There are also many current and historical studies as to continued mask use and their hindering of the body's natural healing and immunity.
Trooper Kowing has had two or three bouts of flu-like symptoms and sickness over the last two years. He does not know if it was Covid, but he and his family live a healthy lifestyle, and he wants tol rely on his body's ability to fight the virus. He believes that should be a viable option without fear of punishment or discrimination.
Trooper Kowing has had several friends and a few family members that have had Covid and lived to tell the tale. He does not discount the toll that this has taken on people, including some close to him. He has many friends who have taken the vaccine and supports their choice to do so.